Friday, July 19, 2013

Casino Royale (1967)

       How did a film like Casino Royale ever get released? Troubled production, over five different directors, and God knows how many screen writers (three are credited but it's said that over six others contributed), 1967's Casino Royale is a perfect example of an over-budget film being high on itself and a beautiful disaster. Spoofing the spy genre (as well as capitalizing on the James Bond name), the film is the loosest adaption of the Casino Royale novel ever made, featuring a loose as hell narrative, too many characters, plot holes, little context, and so on. Yet, for all its flaws, I still enjoyed the film greatly: I was entertained, had some great laughs, and was genuinely interested in what went on. It's such a unique and of-its-time film that I can't help but still like it (even though its infamy is well deserved).

       The film's cast list includes, but is not limited to: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr, Joanna Pettet, and Woody Allen. A brief synopsis of the film feels almost as unnecessary as it is impossible, but: Sir James Bond (David Niven) is called out of retirement to stop SMERSH, which includes beating Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a game of baccarat (he owes SMERSH money, if you can believe it). Along the way, Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), a man who knows his baccarat, is recruited by Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to play against Le Chiffre and stop SMERSH from....doing more evil doings. The character of Tremble is essentially the other big important character aside from Sir Bond, but so many characters get introduced and so many get offed that I honestly didn't notice when one character disappeared and another reappeared. To top it all off, while each of the characters has a different name, many of the characters are given the title of James Bond 007; this is devised by Sir Bond himself as a way to confuse the enemy (as well as the audience, if they're trying to keep up with who is being named James Bond).

      While the film is a spy spoof, it has no other form of identity; scenes go all over the place, the direction is always changing (certain scenes and actors were specifically shot by certain directors), but the story is probably the biggest disaster because there almost isn't one. To explain: The story concerns defeating SMERSH by beating one of their own at a card game. Simple enough, right? Well, being that the film is over two hours long, it feels the need to provide scenes of characters doing certain things for over twenty minutes or more. Wanna see Sir James Bond visiting M's household? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes? Wanna see one of the many 007's infiltrate a SMERSH cover operation? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes?

       What happens is that these scenes go on longer than they need to and introduce even more characters that, more than likely, don't need to exist as main characters, let alone as minor characters. If these scenes were cut and made tighter in their focus, this film would be so much shorter, believe me. Yet, once again, something about the film filling and wasting its own time on unnecessary length and "exposition" fascinates me and keeps me interested; the only reason I can find for why I don't mind this or why I like it is because it makes the overall film that much more interesting to follow, giving it a slower pace than it should have. Plus, I like lengthy films. Or, maybe it being so unnecessary makes the film worse and that much more of an entertaining and sensational disaster. Who knows.

       So what other problems does this film have? Well, one huge problem I noticed is that it doesn't really care for context. How did we get form here to there? Why did this happen? Whatever happened to so and so? If you're really paying attention, you more than likely will be asking questions about what's going on. Of course, not like it matters, since this film barely has a story to hold onto. Still, there are moments where I'm not sure what's going on or what happened simply because no one has provided the context. Of course, some moments do have good context, but so many others have next to none. This also goes for transitions, which this film obviously has never heard about -- In fact, one moment in particular stands out above all the others: a scene transitions from a kidnapping, to one of the 007's looking for the kidnapped, to an unrelated scene, to the secret agent having been captured. Context? A transition explaining what happened? Don't count on it.

       So what does this film do right? Well, it succeeds in being an entertaining disaster, but I'm not sure that was the film's intention. What it did succeed most in was making me laugh. Not every scene is a hit, and many moments are more humorous than they are funny. Still, other times I was laughing out loud and enjoying what was happening on screen. Any moment something blew up, I was having a ball (the explosions truly are a highlight). As it turns out, the funniest moments for me where when certain characters were killed off. Not every single character's death was amusing, and it isn't the sole fact that they died that amused me: It was the way they were killed. (I won't spoil anything for those that want to see it all for themselves.) I will also add that the acting was actually not bad and the film ended exactly the way I wanted it to.

       The music is probably the biggest highlight and most positive thing one can say about the film. Composed by Burt Bacharach, the music is deliciously late '60s, making scenes more entertaining than they should be. There's also the song "The Look of Love" by Dusty Springfield that is surprisingly well done.

       It's fully understandable why Casino Royale has a bad reputation: the script's narrative is beyond loose, the direction is all over the place, and the overall feel is overly goofy, ultimately confusing the audience with a film that doesn't know what to do with itself. I don't blame anyone involved in this picture with disowning or disassociating themselves from it. Still, there's something charming about this mess, something fun and entertaining. It spoofs plenty of 007 conventions well, and its erratic nature and overblown ways is something you just never see. A film like Casino Royale rarely ever exists; It's the result of the trends, the times, and the hype of Old Hollywood before the New Hollywood age came into town. It's the sort of film that is worth checking out for its sheer infamy alone. Whether you're a 007 fan, a fan of the late '60s, a fan of disasters, or you're masochistic, Casino Royale is a rare kind of picture that will (hopefully) never come into existence again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Miami Connection (1987)

       Every so often, there comes a film so bizarre, so unique, so out there, that it ends up being a must-see for those very reasons alone, regardless of whether the film itself is actually good or bad. Miami Connection is one of those movies, a low budget, martial arts film that has a lot of spirit and passion from the people who made it. Conceived by director Richard Park, and Tae Kwon Do grand master Y.K. Kim (who also wrote, produced, and stars in the film), Miami Connection (which barely takes in place in said location) is about a Miami ninja biker gang (seriously) that runs the cocaine circuit in Miami and sets its sights on conquering Orlando as well. Orlando is where we meet our protagonists, a band called Dragon Sound with band members that are all black belts in Tae Kwon Do. When these two clash, things get really crazy.

       Miami Connection was only released regionally in Orlando and West Germany during its original release time. It was only until recently that it was rediscovered by Drafthouse Films and shown to a wider audience with positive reception. When originally being made, no distributor gave it a chance, until a small distribution company bought it for $100,000. It became an underground cult film during this time and an old shame for Y.K. Kim. However, it has recently garnered a resurgence with positive reception from critics and audiences alike.

       So why was this film hid away so long? Maybe because it's notoriously so bad that it's amazing and the critics of back then couldn't figure it out. The film is so incredibly '80s that it can be seen as a time capsule of that area. From the hair, to the music (which we get to hear in full '80s synth rock glory), to the cars, to the everything – It's all '80s all the time.

       The aforementioned plot is as basic as it gets, giving our heroes every and any opportunity to kick butt. There's even a fight against some band members and a night club owner/manager! Any excuse to simply hit people is given in this film. It helps that the main characters that compose Dragon Sound (five men and a female singer) are all black belts in Tae Kwon Do in real life (save for the female). The action scenes range from stupid awesome to just stupid: sometimes characters do or don't get hit, sometimes characters do moves that have no reason to be made, and sometimes the moves being made make sense, but the fights are almost always unnecessary, which is what makes it all so great. The fights get really crazy at the end when our heroes have to go against the Miami Ninjas, who use all sorts of blades.

       In case you're wondering, yes, all these actors are bad actors. However, they have spirit and do try (not too hard), so it's actually not as painful as it sounds. On the contrary, the acting is hilarious most of the time, featuring terrible dialogue and a man who can't speak English (Kim). Some of the acting goes to really bad heights, and other times the acting is, well, obvious, which, in turn, can make it painful to watch.

       The music is really awesome, being as authentic of the time as ever. Featuring original songs such as "Friends" and "Against the Ninja," these songs are so radical that I couldn't help but dance like a goof when they played. The opening credits (which feature the song "Escape from Miami") are really cool for being so serious, which noticeably contrasts with the movie, which can't be serious even when it tries.

       I like that the setting is authentic, meaning that when they say they're in Miami or Orlando it's the real deal. They even show footage of the University of Central Florida, which is located near the downtown Orlando area. It is curious that nearly all the characters refer to their location as Central Florida, which is accurate, but still interesting; it's as if I were in Miami all the time but always referred to it as South Florida – it is accurate, being in the general South area, but there are other cities that compose South and even Central Florida. In that respect, Miami is always referred to as Miami (whenever it's even mentioned at all).

       And that leads me to my only complaint: It barely takes place in Miami. Consider this a precaution and not a spoiler: You don't wanna go into this movie thinking it's all in Miami, or else you'll end up a bit bummed like I was at the fact that, no, it doesn't take place on the mean streets of Miami but on the sorta-mean streets of Orlando. The title, as it turns out though, is a reference to the Miami Ninjas and not just the city; this ends up making more sense, since they're in Orlando but from Miami, hence, the Miami connection.

       Aside from the aforementioned complaint, I have no other problems with this movie. There's barely any filler (and if there is it's never boring), the music is out of sight, and the whole ride is always entertaining. There are many laugh out loud moments, as well as awkward scenes, dialogue, and so on. There's a few scenes where I'm pretty certain I saw the production crew standing around, too, which is classic.

      Overall, all I can say is that Miami Connection is so bad it's awesome. I recommend it to basically everyone and anyone who likes exploitation B-movies, hilarious movies, martial arts films, and films that are great to watch with others. And remember: Eliminating violence through violence is always the answer.